Mama Benz & the taste of money
A film about the relationship between Dutch businessmen and African market ladies. Nomination Canadian Film board Award ‘Best Documentary Feature’ at the Vancouver International Film festival 2002.
In West Africa wealthy women prefer to dress in ‘genuine African’ textiles associated with a special status. Few people know that the only manufacturer of these materials is a company not based in Africa but in The Netherlands. ‘Vlisco wax’ is made according to a highly secret formula. Once shipped to Africa, the material becomes an important status symbol and African women wear it inside out to display prominently the label ‘Guaranteed Dutch Wax Vlisco’.
Set against the background of the manufacturing and sale of the colourful Vlisco wax, MAMA BENZ AND THE TASTE OF MONEY shows the great differences in business attitudes between Europe and Africa. The ambition of Henk Bremer to conquer Burkina Faso and the struggle of Alice Gouba to run her business show us the struggle for life between two worlds, very different from each other but also mutually dependent. A subtle and witty film about a region in development; a colourful documentary with a personal touch.
Mama Benz” is an inventively sly docuBy Ronnie Scheib, 2002
In the guise of a bouncy little puff piece, pic argues colonialism in Africa did not die, it just turned corporate. Film chronicles the opening of a wholesale/retail outlet in Ouadougou by the Dutch textile company Vlisco. Firm designs, manufactures and exports “Dutch wax” batik prints prized by African women. Male-owned and operated Vlisco is shown manipulating its way into the existing female-run system of wholesalers, market stalls and large shops. Highly unusual in its jaunty presentation and slow-dawning revelations, docu should play well on fest circuit and find a niche on cable or public television.
Helmer Karin Junger plays her cards close to the vest, seemingly showing no particular bias. Initial scenes of Vlisco setting up shop in Holland and Burkina Faso are underscored with misleadingly happy-go-lucky music. Intercut with company scenes are interviews with a young market vendor, Alice, whom Junger follows on her daily rounds as she talks about her dream of becoming a “Mama Benz” (the generic name given to rich businesswomen derived from their status-symbol Mercedes). Alice has given Vlisco’s advance-men information on how the local businesses operate in the hope of preferential treatment.
It soon becomes apparent that beneath the flattering assurances of Vlisco representatives, their conditions are, in the words of their own director, draconian. Their extremely vendor-unfriendly agenda cuts out the richer and more experienced businesswomen, then intimidates the younger and poorer tradeswomen. High wholesale prices, requisite large orders and fixed sales prices in a bargaining economy leave them scrambling to stay afloat.
The subversive nature of what appears on the surface to be a company-sanctioned near-infomercial sneaks up on the viewer. But, in retrospect, Junger has subtly seeded her docu with warning signals, moments that arouse fleeting unease. Docu opens with a company man explaining the precautions employees must take to avoid being contaminated by the dirty money they handle. Under a phalanx of Vlisco men walking through the marketplace, vaguely Morricone-ish music hints at later sinister showdowns.
Throughout, shots of the glorious batik prints in various stages of design and manufacture illuminate a richness that most people ironically believe to be symbolic of indigenous African industry.
- IKON Television
- Dutch Filmfund
- Directed by: Karin Junger
- Production company: Cobos Films & IKON televisie
- Coproducers: RNTV and IKON
- Cinematography: Adri Schrover
- Editor: Maaik Krijgsman
- Henk Bremer
- Alice Gouba
- Madame Pauline Ilboudo
- Henny Kegge for RNTV
- Elvira Kuric for RNTV
IDFA 2001, Margaret Mead Film Festival New York 2002, Documenta Madrid 2015
Canadian Filmboard 'best documentary Feature' at the Vancouver International Film Festival' 2002